Personal

The Power of Questions

Sometimes the most powerful of tools are those closest to us. However, these tools are also often easily overlooked.

Take for instance words. Just one single word can have tremendous power in shifting how we  perceive and understand reality. For example, think of the word freedom. The word freedom is like a demon: once unleashed, it can empower us to achieve amazing things, yet it can also be our tormentor and an eternal obstacle to happiness. Happiness is another such word that is frequently pursued as a life goal, but which can be as elusive to achieve as freedom.

There are subtle, yet important, differences emerging from which word we choose as our life’s most important goal. Consequently, it is the existence or nonexistence of a single word at the forefront of our consciousness, which can result in tectonic shifts in our lives.

But we are not a slave to words. We are their master. We can decide which words matter to us and which do not. The emphasis here is on can. Since a word used without conscious awareness of its implications has the power to subtly yet inadvertently steer our life’s path.

If words are powerful tools, which carefully wielded, help us to achieve control over how we see our life, then sentences are factories. Amalgamations of tools, which not only subtly change our perspective, but actively transform it.

In the richness of our language, there are almost limitless categories of sentences, each with its own signature and potential to transform our life. Some examples include:

Judgments: You are lazy. I am lazy. She is always beautiful. Life is good.
A judgement is a very powerful tool to represent reality in a certain way. Their most underestimated influence is that a judgement, once thought or voiced, works hard to confirm itself, not just through thoughts but also through speech and action.

Plans: I will go to medical school.
If jugements have a passive, albeit significant, way to shape our future thought and action then plans are their blunt counterparts. A plan can produce a strong drive to make into reality whatever it states.

The one type of sentence we have so far omitted, the one that is the very motivation for these thoughts, is the type we believe to be the most valuable and yet the most underutilized: questions.

Questions are to us the most transformative tool since they stand at the beginning of all thought and decision.

For example, the question “Are you lazy?” will precede the thought/judgment “You are lazy”.
“What do I want to study?” will precede “I will go to medical school”.

Yet, like words, questions only allow us to capture their power if we give them due credit; if we do not ignore them but understand them to be a central part of what shapes our life. If we are aware that the question “Are you lazy” comes before the thought “You are lazy” then we do not take our conclusion as being the ultimate truth, but rather as an infinitesimal point in a process woven of questions.

Of course, life is too rich for us to be able to question everything. Indeed, most questions are inevitably answered by our unconscious mind – When do I take the next breath? Where do I look next? Do I think you are attractive? – Answers to these questions are handed to our conscious mind as neatly executed action, or as indisputable truth (see Incognito: The Secret Life of the Brain).

However, through following a simple process we can easily unleash the power of questions in our complex lives. We can start with the ‘big‘ and unanswerable questions in life and break them down into smaller, more answerable ones. With each level coming closer to the reality of our life right now.

For instance, we can ask ourselves: Which are the most important questions for my life?
Maybe one important question could be: What do I value more, happiness or freedom


This question, in turn, can be broken down into smaller questions for which an answer might be more readily available to us.


Level 1: What do I value more, happiness or freedom?
Level 2: What does happiness/freedom mean to me?
Level 3: When was the last time, I really felt happy/free?
….

Once you find a question that inspires you and gets you thinking, grab it. Hold on to this question, write it down, ponder it, answer it and make it your life companion. Come back to your question if you feel uneasy. Revisit your answers and revise them, or throw them away and find a better question, one which matters to you even more.

Questions are openness. Questions are alternatives. Questions are infinite freedom, which when used by a careful hand can lead to true and deep happiness.



Posted in association with Max Rohde. You can find out more about Max at http://www.mxro.de/ and http://maxrohde.com/

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